Man-Child Rising: What I Learned From My Judd Apatow Movie Marathon

by Shaker Sady, who can be found when not subjecting herself to Man-Child Cinema blogging various important ladybusiness at Tiger Beatdown.

So, here is a situation that may, one day, occur in your own personal life: You may have the opportunity to interact with one of your own personal Heroes of Lady Business Blogging, and she may be like, "Oh, if you would like to bask for a little while longer in my radiance, perhaps I shall allow you to produce a guest post, for I am awesome." When this happens, you may be like, "Thank you! I would like to do that! Perhaps about the many films of producer Judd Apatow, and the problematic gender politics therein!" Then you will be like, "But WAIT, this is SERIOUS WORK, constructing a Unified Apatow Field Theory: What I should do—nay, must do—is to subject myself to a Judd Apatow Marathon* in the name of research and responsible blogging."

Here is my advice for you: NEVER DO THIS. IT WILL DEVOUR YOUR SOUL.

Judd Apatow is, of course, cinema's most acclaimed poet of the Man-Child. The Man-Child is a male individual who is (a) white, (b) heterosexual, (c) middle-class, in cultural positioning if not in actual income, because he is typically (d) unemployed or under-employed, due to the fact that he is (e) possessed of the soul of a tiny infant baby, trapped in the body of a full-grown man. The body he is trapped in is typically that of Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and/or Jason Segel, although there are some exceptions.

The Man-Child's interests include smoking pot, drinking beer, watching porn and/or TV re-runs, pretending to be Gandalf and/or Darth Vader and/or other notable characters of sci-fi and fantasy film, playing video games, engaging in semi-dangerous XTreme sports such as smashing lightbulbs or setting things on fire, and generally just acting like a thirteen-year-old boy would if he had no curfews and no parents and no-one to stop him from being such an enormous loser all the time, my God.

The Man-Child also, coincidentally, hates and fears women! This is why he exists in an all-male bromosocial cocoon, where he can be safe from their pernicious influence. The varieties of lady-hate in Apatow movies vary, from the emosogynist longing of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" to the full-on vaginaphobia of "Superbad," but the fact remains that the Man-Child, in all his many incarnations, clings tenaciously to a world wherein the only people he interacts with, in a friendly and mutually fulfilling way, are other men, and where he only sees or deals with women insofar as they are pre-filmed images on his TV screen—preferably semi-nude, nude, or nude and in the act of getting fucked—except on those occasions when he ventures out to find a real live vagina to sex with and hence prove his heterosexual masculinity. In between those episodes, there is, of course, plenty of humorous discussion of "pussy" and "sluts" and the curious fact that every man has a "code" written in his DNA which instructs him to "tackle drunk bitches." Ah, levity!

Now: It is a fact that, throughout the illustrious history of the Apatovian canon, Mr. Apatow has produced all of the movies, but only written and directed two. (Those two are "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," the one in which we learn that True Love Waits and sexual women are gross skanks, but also that you have to fuck women in order to be a real man, and "Knocked Up," in which we learn that abortion is evil and you have to Stay Together for the Kids, but also that heterosexual monogamy and fatherhood are a terrifying nightmare because wives are irrational killjoy bitches.) Some have argued that this means one cannot blame all of their failings on Judd Apatow himself! To them, I say: Does Mr. McDonald personally prepare and cook every one of his Big Macs? This is a formula—a very well-established, very successful, VERY EXTREMELY OBNOXIOUS formula—and, if I seem a bit casual about imputing the sins of the creation to the creator, keep in mind that I have seen more of his movies than anyone should have to and am now full of rage.

Because, here is the plot of every Judd Apatow movie in five minutes or less: Man-Child resides in the beautiful, carefree, recess-all-day-long, ice-cream-for-dinner world of Man-Childsvania. Man-Child nevertheless feels the nagging lack of the social status and power that comes from being a Successful, Important Grown Man in patriarchy. Man-Child finds some lady to drag him, kicking and screaming, from Man-Childsvania into the real world. Man-Child makes the bittersweet sacrifice of his freedom, unless he doesn't have to, because a really, truly nice lady will make do with a few superficial changes (like, say, getting a job, or spending only 80% of your time with your bros instead of the more desirable 99.987%) and let you stay a Man-Child forever. Blah blah offensively blatant Republican-family-values conclusion, The End.

Because, when you figure men as innately childlike and irresponsible and incapable of participating equally in a relationship with another person (and this is everywhere: Sitcoms, relationship advice books, Tucker Max story anthologies, but Apatow seems to be the one who's promulgating it most blatantly and with the most success), guess which gender gets to do all the heavy lifting and emotional work and act as a hated/feared/resented/unfortunately necessary Civilizing Influence upon the dudefolks? HINT: Not men!

Judd Apatow films contain some of the most thankless roles for women I have ever seen. Most of them are Crazy Drunk Sluts who appear only in bit parts, which is offensive enough, but hey—at least they don't have to stick around for very long. Pity the girlfriend of the Apatovian Man-Child, friends, for it is certain her boyfriend never will. She's either an endlessly permissive, tolerant, compassionate mommy-lady who is willing to re-arrange her entire life around caring for some dude and enabling his magnificent Journey of Self-Actualization (see: Mila Kunis in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Catherine Keener in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), or a harsh, nagging, demanding shrew who not only fails to tolerate or take care of or empower her Man-Childish partner, but actually passes judgment on him and expects him to grow up all on his own (see: Kristen Bell in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Leslie Mann in "Knocked Up"). She has emotional needs, this woman! And priorities which do not center on her boyfriend! She is a MONSTER!

The thing is, if you are a lady, and you have dated a dude like this—and there are dudes like this, sadly, dudes who have succumbed to the constant cultural messaging that being this way is natural and fun and OK and cool, which is why Judd Apatow has been so successful, and why he continues to be such a bad influence on gender politics at large—you know that you can go from being one to the other in a nanosecond. All it takes is one wrong move. Women are supposed to do the emotional work of maintaining heterosexual relationships, and they are supposed to do it with a smile: Let that smile drop for a second, and you're the bitch who wants to take his toys away.

The woman who takes care of herself and expects her partner to do likewise, who expects compassion for her vulnerabilities and immaturities and extends it to her partner in turn, who can address the problems which inevitably arise between two people without throwing a temper tantrum and has the full and reasonable expectation that she won't be met with a full-on childish shit fit for doing so, the woman who can, yes, HAVE FUN, either on her own or with friends or even with a date—a woman that you, ladies who are in happy relationships, may recognize!—does not exist, either in these movies or in the minds of actual Man-Children. Nor do the men whom such ladies, if inclined toward the dudefolks, might be able to love.

Basically, there is a reason that the "happy" conservative heterosexual-monogamist endings of Judd Apatow movies are so unconvincing, and a reason that they take so long to arrive, and that reason is that the filmmakers themselves don't really believe in them. The paradise of the Man-Child is the only paradise men are allowed. Here, from a 2007 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Judd Apatow's Family Values" (it's funny 'cause it's true, ha ha!) is the bit that seems to encapsulate his eternal theme:
Up on the monitor was a shot of Alison driving her two nieces, played by Apatow's daughters, to school. While filming, Maude accidentally hit her sister, Iris, in the face with her doll. Iris screamed to high heaven. "Let that run past the point of the audience being comfortable," Apatow said. "That way when you cut to Ben and his friends smoking pot and hanging out, you get a sense of what he's giving up."
Dude. Uncool.

* "Man-a-thon?" Ha ha ha, no.

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